DURHAM, N.C. – Duke men’s tennis senior TJ Pura heads into the outdoor portion of his final campaign with the Blue Devils and has just 15 regular season matches remaining in his career. A native of Pacific Palisades, Calif., Pura shares the program record for highest ACC singles winning percentage as a freshman (1.000, 6-0) and turned in the fourth-highest doubles winning percentage by a rookie (.857, 12-2).
Pura looks to finish his career with three seasons of 20 or more singles wins and guide the Blue Devils on another NCAA Tournament run. Last week, Pura spent time with GoDuke.com to look back on his Duke career and what he has valued the most.
GoDuke.com: How do you know that coming to Duke was the right decision for you?
TJ Pura: Duke is the best place on Earth. With the people you meet here and the experiences you have on and off the court , I can’t think of a better place to have come to school. I guess you know you love Duke when it’s hard to imagine what life is going to be like after Duke.
GoDuke.com: What have the relationships you’ve formed at Duke added to your experience here?
TJ: I try to cherish every relationship I have with anyone I meet. I feel like that’s how I was raised. I feel like you owe it to people to say hello and ask how their day is going. Honestly, life is just better when you care about other people and they care about you. For me it’s the only way to live life. But, I’m going to miss everybody – [Assistant Director/Academic Support Services] Jeremiah [Walker], [Assistant Athletic Trainer] Melissa [Gresham], [Head Coach] Ramsey [Smith], [Associate Head Coach Jonathan] Stokke and my teammates. But it’s even the people in the training room who I don’t know directly. It’s people like [Assistant Athletic Trainer] Joe [Ferraro], who works with lacrosse, who I’m going to miss. He and I wrestle once a week in Murray when I’m in the building. It’s everybody. I’m really going to miss the faces here. I’m definitely going to have to come back a good amount in late 2017 and early 2018 to visit.
GoDuke.com: What will a degree from Duke mean to you?
TJ: I think it’s going to mean everything to me. I’ve always taken academics very seriously. They’ve been the No. 1 priority for me. Being a Duke graduate and Duke student-athlete is a way to separate yourself a little bit from the pack. Not only from what I’ve learned here, but the personal relationships I’ve built are going to go a long way.
GoDuke.com: What’s your proudest academic achievement you’ve had here?
TJ: Probably being able to major in computer science. It’s definitely not something that comes naturally to me. I’m definitely more of a brute-force coder than a Jedi like most of the people in my classes. A lot of times that means just being up until 2 a.m. in Perkins Library, banging my head against my computer, getting pretty fired up and ultimately grinding through. It’s something that I was pretty uncomfortable doing, but knew that it would be a competitive advantage I would have after school. Doing that has been my proudest accomplishment here at Duke.
GoDuke.com: What have your teammates meant to you at Duke?
TJ: The day-to-day smiles, times we spend together, laughs and memories on the court are things I’m going to have for the rest of my life. What you have in college tennis is so different from most other sports because it’s such an intimate environment. Every day in practice you’re suffering next to your teammates. During matches you’re suffering either physically or emotionally and that’s why it feels that much better when you do come through together with a big win or a team GPA accomplishment or any goal you’ve set. There’s nothing like going to a dual match with five other people beside you. You can’t beat it.
GoDuke.com: What’s one lesson Duke tennis has taught you that you’ll carry over to the rest of your life?
TJ: More than anything it’s just doing things the right way. In high school or junior tennis, it was easy to kind of skate by on talent alone. But in college everybody is working so hard, whether it’s in practice, at physical therapy, in the weight room or the classroom. The lesson is to give 100 percent and not take any shortcuts. That’s something I’ll always have. I wear my heart on my sleeve in everything I do. That’s definitely going to be what identifies TJ Pura the working man, as crazy as that is to say.
GoDuke.com: What’s one team goal you have for the rest of the year?
TJ: To compete for and hopefully win an ACC championship. That’s really all I have my mindset on right now. NCAA time will come after ACCs. I truly believe we can do it, from the bottom of my heart. We are getting better every single day and I feel that. We’re all in the same boat, working towards the same goals. Everyone is so motivated that I really think we can do something special come later this spring.
GoDuke.com: How has your role changed from when you came in as a freshman to standing here today as the team’s lone senior?
TJ: When I came in as a freshman I was just a fired up Italian kid with energy out the wazoo. It was pretty hard to control sometimes, but I was a lot of fun to be around. Then now the tough part is as much as I love my teammates, sometimes I have to be hard on them. I have to sometimes say there’s a certain way to do things. I kind of have to be like the older brother who sometimes rains down on a parade. While I do rain down on the parade sometimes, the fired up Italian kid hasn’t left at all. I still scream the loudest and get the guys fired up. I’m so proud of them when good things happen. I love being around my teammates.